A Union County program is working to rehabilitate inmates while saving taxpayers money.
During the heat of summer, non-violent offenders from the Union County Jail spend a few days a week working in the Union County Sheriff’s Office Inmate Garden.
The plot of land located just off of Highway 33 was donated to the sheriff’s office to grow the program. Inmates planted their first seeds back in 2014.
"The garden is totally planted by the inmates, maintained and harvested by the inmates," said Union County Sheriff Billy Breeding.
He came up with idea as a way to offset food costs at the jail, which total roughly $140,000 a year.
Now inmates plant tomatoes, okra, potatoes and corn, and all of the produce goes back to the jail.
"I'm paying my debt to society for what I done wrong," said inmate Jason Ryan.
Since the garden started, the sheriff’s office has cut food costs by $10,000 in the first year alone, saving taxpayers money. Breeding said it’s also showing inmates what a little discipline and hard work can do.
"They seem to take a lot of pride out of the garden. It seems like they get a lot of self-satisfaction on keeping it maintained and looking good," he said.
"The sheriff's department has given me a great opportunity, a second chance at life. I mean, I came in addicted to drugs and I've been able to beat my addiction," Ryan said.
As the crops begin to flourish, so do their caretakers.
“We grow each day, getting a better person and getting ready to get back into society," Ryan said.
Breeding said the community is responding well to the project. All the seeds, tools and even the land were donated. The department donates all the extra produce from the garden to a local food shelter.